The Power of a
Query Letter
When I completed my first romance novel and faced the intimidating task of trying to find a home for
it, I soon realized that I hated to submit work to publishers or agents -- that only allowed writers to
send in a query letter. I mean, come on! How can anyone judge how well I write fiction, just from a
query letter? At least give me a chance to show I can tell a good story! BUT... You knew there was a
BUT coming, didn't you? Of course you did.

As it happens, some years went by, and in doing critique work for others, I had the chance to read
over a number of query letters. That's when I realized how much I picked up about each person's
writing ability even when I had nothing to go on but that letter.

Okay. Now, think of a skilled editor -- or agent -- with a full query letter in hand. She has probably
seen thousands of them. Think of how much she can learn about your writing style and your
manuscript from that one page query letter. With little more than a minute, an editor will know if she
can toss that query to the reject pile if...

You sent it on lovely pink paper with small red print that promises to cause her to go cross-eyed
after the first paragraph. (Use a good grade white paper instead, and try an ordinary font and very
readable style and size print in your every day basic black.)

You addressed the query to Dear Editor, and then rambled on for four pages when the guidelines
stated plainly that you were to send in a one-page query letter. On top of that, your novel is a
100,000 word historical, and the house you queried only publishes 75,000 word contemporaries. (A
person who has the time to write a whole novel, can surely take the time to do a little market

In reading half of the query, she's already found one spelling error and two grammar mistakes. (First
impressions do mean a lot. A query letter should be lacking in one thing - mistakes.)

While reading, the editor finds herself needing to go back and read a couple of sentences over, to
be sure of what you meant. (Your writing should be tight and clear.)

When finished with the query, she still doesn't know the word count, setting, or the line the writer is
targeting. (It is best to make sure that somewhere in those first few sentences you answer those
questions and mention that the manuscript is complete.)

If the writer who sent this editor the query letter didn't even bother to do this much right, what are the
chances that a manuscript from the writer will be any better? Most editors don't have the time to take

In the Beginning
Completing and scanning your query shows you have never sold novel-length fiction before, then
she can probably toss your query to the rejection pile. There are 200 other query letters sitting there
from writers with completed manuscripts and perfect query letters.

On to the Middle
Next in the query letter is your pitch about your story.  You have to make this short and sweet, and
still grab her interest. Think of this as being the blurb on a novel. How many times have you read a
book's back cover and set the book down or placed it into your shopping cart, making that decision
solely from those couple of paragraphs?  If the editor doesn't like your writing style, or if she has just
bought a story with the same plot line, then she can toss this query too.  Reading further won't do her
any good, or you.

The End
Last in your letter are a few lines to brag about yourself as a writer. Come on, you have something
positive you can add. I know you do. Have you published any thing? Been writing for seven years?
Are you a member of RWA? What about part of a critique group? Have you had something place in
a writing contest? Maybe the heroine in your story is a nurse, and so are you?  Anything good at all
you can add to give you a little edge, is perfect for here.

Some things that will probably get your query tossed during this part are if you add things like... I
know you will think this is the very best book you have ever read!  Or...  My mom and sister both
loved this story so much, they said it just has to be published and should sell millions of copies!

So you see, that simple little query letter, only a single page long, that most of us hate with a passion
to write, can tell an editor (or agent) every thing she needs to know about you and your manuscript --
at least every thing she needs to know to decide if she should use her precious time to read chapter

                                            Charlotte Dillon  ~
Copyrighted in 2003 by Charlotte Dillon
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